Searching for Second Chances
Determined to fight back against cancer, a mother and daughter turn to UCSF to answers.
When Ge’Onah “GG” Gray was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive facial tumor that left her unable to speak and in excruciating pain. After a year of treatment, GG's condition had worsened, and she was given days to live.
“I said ‘no,’” says Mimi Williams, GG’s mother. “I refused to give up on my child.”
Mother and daughter were determined. They scoured the internet for pediatric oncologists with the expertise to treat GG’s condition. Their search led them to UCSF’s Robert Goldsby, MD, who agreed to take the case.
Dr. Goldsby drew upon UCSF’s unparalleled expertise to assemble a multidisciplinary team of surgeons – spanning oncology, otolaryngology, and plastic surgery – to conduct a complex operation with one goal: to give GG a second chance.
GG and Mimi arrived in San Francisco on a Monday. By Friday, a team of seven surgeons had saved GG’s life and bought mother and daughter more time together.
Mimi says that it took more than medicine to bring her child back to life. During GG's month-long hospitalization, UCSF provided holistic support. When the surgeons and nurses left her room, the Child Life specialists and music therapists showed up. GG learned to play the ukulele and became immersed in sing-signing – the practice of expressing a song through sign language.
“She was a kid again,” says Mimi. “As a parent, seeing your child who has been through so much forget about being sick and escape back into childhood ... was amazing.”
GG still faces an uphill battle. In their most difficult moments, mother and daughter hold each other close and look up at the names on the walls of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital – the names of the donors who make lifesaving care possible through gifts for research, and the names of the patrons who fund the Child Life services that were crucial to GG's recovery. And they say to each other, one day, we will give back to this community too, and help a family like ours come back to life.